(I want to write – indeed, still intend to write – about nicer cycling experiences. But events require me to at least make a historical record of what happened today. I must also apologise if I have to revise any of the details later on account of slight confusions which you will read below.)
I was trolling nicely along the main driveway into work today. As one of my co-workers clocked me cycling at over 20mph on a good day – and today, with a brief pause at the top of the hill to get food and catch my breath, was an excellent day until that point – I must have made a decent speed as I approached the gates into the main part of the commercial park.
The road to the office consists of roughly two stretches of straight single track, with a bend at the gates where the speed limit for motor vehicles drops to 20mph. At the end of this second stretch is a loop and some spirals of paths, leading to all the offices. The track has short, almost circular passing places, but at my speed – as I say, a reasonable 20 or so – it would only be safe to use them for oncoming traffic, which can be seen some distance away owing to the straightness of the road. There’s no safety to be gained – indeed, much safety to be lost, and very little convenience for anyone given the speed limit, by anyone pulling into a passing space and having to essentially judder to a halt, and in my case unclip my pedals, etc. After all, I have the road, and I’m the vehicle in front of people, and I’m doing a relevant speed for the conditions.
Nonetheless, there are always those who push and push, eventually to overtake me. But this post is not about them; well it is, tangentially. This morning an idiot in a silver car with no corners did indeed squeeze past in order to break the speed limit, but I didn’t pay it much mind. Stupid people in silver cars overtake me in stupid circumstances every day.
No, what’s important to note is what happened when, at the end of the second straight road, I followed the tight, slow spiral of roads to the office. As I dismounted, I was hollered at from behind by the occupant of a blue car with a few more corners to it. What happened next is rather hard to relate exactly, for reasons which I’ll explain in a moment. So I paraphrase when I say that the first two things the driver said were something like:
“Excuse me [pause for me to turn]: didn’t you see what happened there?”
“You should have pulled over. That car nearly hit you when it overtook you.”
What followed were a number of attempts by me to explain the basic concepts of road safety, dominant road position, expected standards of behaviour around vulnerable road users, and other standard elements of the highway code when it comes to overtaking.
However, every time I got half way through a sentence, the driver – who had got out of the car now and was making those occasional hand-flinging gestures people make when they’re too busy to listen, like they’re throwing a boule – would interrupt me to tell me that I was wrong, and accuse me of some other piece of impertinence.
Every time he did so, his voice got louder and louder: so loud that later people in the office would mention without prompting that they were shocked by the violence of his words. So it’s rather hard for me to do anything other than paraphrase anything he said: most of it, he would begin saying it before I even finished answering his previous point. His generally threatening demeanour also put me off my stride: it’s not always true that time slows down when you’re in a stressful situation. Sometimes it becomes confused and discombobulating instead.
As he ranted and ranted, it became gradually clear that he genuinely could not understand that the driver of fthe silver car – his discussion was obsessed with other people’s driving or cycling, never referring to his own at all – had been in the wrong when he overtook me on a narrow road, especially close as I myself was to the local speed limit. He genuinely could not understand that I wouldn’t be grateful for his safety advice, when what he was suggesting – don’t take the dominant road position which is safer; screech to a halt, and try not to fall off so you can get out of the way of impatient, stupid drivers who want to blat past – was the precise opposite of what would actually keep me safe. The opposite of what cycling advisory bodies and trainers recommend.
(He also struck me as the sort of person who wasn’t used to others giving off the vibe that, not only was he mistaken, but his whole perspective on the discussion was false. Not that I really got round to saying anything so impertinent: I was rather polite for most of it, actually, largely unmanned as I was by his astonishing shouting.)
More than any of that, though, I think he was secretly angry that he hadn’t had the chance to overtake me himself. He had always been hovering in my blind spot whenever I did a lifesaver-look into it for the last hundred yards of my journey, I remember; but he never quite saw the window in which to do something stupid. What I mean is, he probably wasn’t interested in the chance to overtake safely or properly, but the chance to just overtake; to sneak and bomb past with the narrowest of safety margins, not really a safety margin at all. Just a box ticked. He felt that I was in his way. That it was his right of way, and I wasn’t to be considered as the rightful vehicle in front; but as a mote in his eye, to be swept aside.
At the end, red faced and hand-flingy, he barked out – and it was an astonishing bark – “MAYBE YOU SHOULD HAVE A BIT MORE RESPECT!” This floored me, to the point where I started to walk away, but then – and this at least rounded things off – I suddenly had the wherewithal to say: “You talk about respect? After you’ve stood here berating me?” He started to bark something else, not quite forming a sentence: but by then I was in the office. Probably feeling a little too far from his car already, he didn’t follow.
There will always be drivers who will couch thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots in the language of concern and compassion, but I’m often surprised by how quickly the mask slips. Not half as surprised as my co-workers, who it seems would have been able to hear him if they’d been on the moon. It’s entirely possible he’ll complain and try to get the estate to do something anti-highway-code and anti-safety too; if he does, there will most certainly be unrest; but I can only hope that he’s just yet another arsehole. Still, some days it feels like I have so many arseholes putting me off my breakfast of a morning that I might as well own a cat.
At least I got a cup of tea out of it, as Gentleman Dave (soon to be sadly missed as he goes off to find himself; Dave, you’re there; there you are, Dave) made me a mighty mug of the stuff when he, like everyone else, was told exactly what it was they’d just been listening to through the door, still open onto the outside world despite the late time of year. On reflection I think they’d have all preferred birdsong.